Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Repealing 800 Year-Old Fatwa? Why Even Bother?

During the last week of March 2010, a group of senior Muslim clerics gathered in a small town in Turkey to discuss an interesting issue: modernization of some old religious rulings (Fatwas) that do not seem to make sense in modern times.

The major Fatwa in focus this time was an 800 year-old Fatwa, issued by Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328 AD). That Fatwa is understood by modern-day militants as justifying fighting not only against oppressors and occupiers of Muslim land, but also against other Muslims perceived not to be in line with the militants’ point of view.

The media blurb about the conference was that it called for ‘repealing the fatwa’. In actuality, the call was a lot milder than that. It just called to try to understand the fatwa in their historic context – 800 years ago, when the Muslims world was at a war with the Mongol Empire army (1206-1368). The edict is apparently used by some fundamental militants to justify religiously sanctioned war against others: Muslims and non-Muslims.

While the idea behind the conference is not inherently bad, I think such efforts are useless and are a total waste of time and here are my reasons.

Any idiot that thinks a 13th -century fatwa regulating conduct of war is valid today - in a very different context - will not listen to a conference press release from some modern-day clergies. Ibn Taymiyya is a semi-divine figure for the Wahhabi and Salafi militants, and is also treated as infallible by many traditionalists.

The idea of repealing one of his Fatwas, or even contextualizing it, is almost blasphemous to them. Traditionalists can see God only through the ancient thinkers eyes. Any attempt to change that mounts to creating a novel and erroneous religion for them. This is a result of intellectual cowardice that many modern clergy have, failing to express any tendency to critically appraise old religious conclusions, regardless of how silly they may be. Their logic frequently is: if it survived the test of times, it must be correct.

An example of such intellectual cowardice shows in one of the conference participating ‘scholars’ who was already on the defense stating that the original Fatwa (i.e., Ibn Taymiyya’s opinion) was not wrong, and that the militant interpretation of it was rather a result typographical error that lead to the misunderstanding; and that the conference was not reviewing the fatwa in the light of a differing or opposing opinion to Ibn Taymiyya [God forbids!!], but rather authenticating the initial intent of the fatwa using Ibn Taymiyya’s own work.

The fault is obviously not with Ibn Taymiyya, who was a brilliant jurist and a scholar that factored in the realities of his own world when he made his Fatwas. I do not think he could have imagined that, eight centuries later, someone would consider him so infallible that he is above criticism or review.

The problems we face as Muslims today are not only because of Ibn Taymiya’s edicts. It is because of the stupid glorification and sainthood we cast on anything in our Islamic history and intellectual products once it is old enough.

Early scholars are not great because they are now historic. They excelled because they considered their own realities as much as they considered the context of their predecessors’ work. Until we have the intelligence and intellectual courage to openly critique, oppose and even reverse some of the earlier edicts and conclusions when needed, we will continue to be intellectually subservient to the rest of the world.

Even worse, we frequently are the laughing stock for anyone with some intelligence that looks deep enough in some of our books. Take for example some Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) books that still list counting chest wall ribs as a possible way (albeit a minority opinion) in deciding if a hermaphrodite is a male or female, for inheritance purposes.

Something is wrong with a culture that does not throw in the trash ancient statements like that. We cannot even make the bold decision to stop listing stupid opinions as minority opinion out of respect for earlier scholars? Having been reading about earlier scholars, I am certain they would have been the first to throw away their ridiculous conclusions once they came across facts that proved them wrong. That is why they are scholars. And that is why I admire them despite realizing some of their wrong conclusions.

Here is another example. Some Salafi and Wahabi ‘scholars’ are still writing books denying that planet Earth moves, and contemplating the labeling for a Muslim who says it does: are they kafir or murtad, and what punishment they deserve for believing that planet Earth rotates!!! One of those ‘scholars’ was the Chairman of the Saudi Religious Edict Council Abdel-Aziz Bin Baz (died 1999), another semi-divine figure to many Salafis. A book of interest is still in print labeled ‘Textual and sensory evidence that the Sun moves and the Earth does not’. In case you want to research it further, the title in Arabic is:

How stupid should one be to realize that ‘ancient textual’ and ‘subjective sensory' evidence have no place in science, medicine or astronomy? For those who can understand Arabic, check the web page to laugh at the good luck that makes that man a religious authority for some Muslims.

People like Bin Baz could be knowledgeable in other areas, but they are so detached from the World that their conclusions are not trustworthy in any case where interaction with the real world seems needed.

They feel that their ‘textual knowledge’ of ancient Islamic work should be enough to enable them to make judgment about any and everything ranging from medicine, biology and all the way to physics and astronomy. And seeing how stupid their opinions are on objective physical sciences, one can only imagine the intellectual swamps we get in when they talk about less objective arenas such as politics or social issues.

Do we even realize how many brilliant young Muslim minds we alienate, and eventually lose, by keeping this sort of mental trash as part of the 'religious' culture?

The real goal should not be repealing a Fatwa, but rather collective effort to change the mindset of current Muslim culture.

It will take more courage to face the real issues head on. In a generation or two, we may be able to enlighten some of the ignorant idiots, neutralize some of the militants, but more importantly, we would be able to evolve into people of intellect, the kind of people God is addressing in the Quran all the time.
"Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason." (2:164)
Links of relevance (some are in Arabic):
"لا يجوز لجماعة مسلمة إعلان الحرب من تلقاء نفسها"
Mardin anti-terror conference sparks debate over fatwas
International Conference on Ibn Taymiyah's "Mardin Fatwa" held in the Turkish City of Mardin | IslamToday - English
ابن باز وكروية الأرض
قضية دوران الارض ما بين التفسير الديني و التفسير العلمي .... نقاش مفتوح - الصفحة 3 - ملتقى المهندسين العرب - أول ملتقى هندسي عربي
تحريم القول بدوران الكرة الارضية

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